The Financial Costs of Marriage... And Divorce
It is more than a clever aphorism to say it costs as much to be divorced as it did to marry in the first place.
A recent court case saw a judge make an award of over £300,000
where one party was found by the judge to have deliberately hidden assets from the court and his former wife.
Family lawyers, while protecting their client's interests will always try and foster agreement and settlement wherever possible.Agreements
Recently, pre-nuptial agreements
and co-habitation agreements have become increasingly popular. With many people marrying for perhaps the second time, it is only human nature to want to protect what you have before embarking upon marriage again. Therefore an agreement drawn up, before the marriage about what each party is to retain and a careful definition as to what will be counted as matrimonial assets can make separation, should the worst befall, a lot
However, the agreement, to be supported by the court, must
meet some exacting conditions. Something thrashed out over the kitchen table and a bottle of wine is unlikely to be upheld.
An agreement prior to marriage must:
- Be settled well ahead of the wedding, to allow sufficient time for consideration and advice
- Both parties will need independent legal advice. Their representatives will have to sign an endorsement to the agreement confirming their involvement
- Full frank and relevant financial disclosure from both parties will be required and schedules drawn up and signed as to what assets and belongings will remain the property of the parties themselves rather than become matrimonial assets.
- Make provision for children
- Include regular review clauses to allow the agreement to be amended as the marriage itself lengthens and its asset base develops.
- Must not of itself be unfair or unduly onerous on one side or the other and take into account what the needs of the parties are likely to be following separation.
- Take account of contingencies such as death and permanent injury to one party or the other.
The courts are rightly zealous with the huge breadth of discretion they have under the Matrimonial Causes Act
and will look closely at any agreement to make sure it fits the bill and meets the needs of the parties. If so, the cost of a properly negotiated well drafted pre-nuptial agreement is money well spent compared to the enormous costs of matrimonial litigation, that can, in the worst cases devour all the assets of a marriage that have taken a lifetime to earn.
Are People Still Getting Married?
Fewer of us are now marrying. Living together is becoming more and more common. Regrettably, the law dealing with the breakdown of a cohabitation is a mish-mash of arcane trust law, House of Lords decisions and very little statute law. This is one area of social policy crying out for reform and clear guidelines from government. However this will not be soon. Whilst legislating for gay marriage, the number of such relationships is likely to be tiny to the number of couples (both gay and straight) who live together and have very little to go on when their relationships break down.
Even the lawyers can struggle with this. Co-habitation agreements
(based on broadly the same principles as above) are an extremely cost-effective means of bringing clarity and certainty to what remains an extremely murky and vague area of law should a relationship end.Proper legal advice at the outset of a relationship as to how real property is to be held and who is to be responsible for what can save both parties from devastating legal costs and heartache later.